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WEST CHESTER — West Chester University has become a school known across the country. It has made a positive name for itself, so much so that for the incoming freshman class of 2,300, more than 14,000 people applied.
University President Greg Weisenstein recalled times when he would be outside of the area, such as boarding a plane, and noticed the shift in the university’s recognition.
“We’re much more well-known around the country,” he said. “I now get on a plane and have a WCU emblem on some sort of gear and people say, ‘Oh, West Chester University.’ Six and a half years ago when I would get on a plane with something WCU, people would ask, ‘Western Carolina University?’
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“We’ve become a top-of-mind first choice university and that’s where we wanted to be.”
Delivering what is now known as his last State of the University address — Weisenstein will be retiring at the end of March 2016 – on Thursday, the president touched on that recognition.
“West Chester University is among the very best comprehensive regional universities in the country,” he said in the address. “WCU is a top destination for higher education within the mid-Atlantic region. More than 20,000 students apply every year, seeking the benefits of a West Chester University education.”
For the second time in three years, the university was awarded the Dixon Trophy as the top athletic program in the Pennsylvania State Athletics Conference. West Chester’s program is the largest in Division II of the NCAA, according to Weisenstein.
“(It) is consistently ranked among the top 20 in the nation,” he said. “WCU coaches do a great job of helping our student-athletes attain success in competition, in the classroom and in life. More than 60 percent of our student-athletes are named to the Athletic Director’s Honor Role.”
But it’s not just about the education, but also how ready the university prepares outgoing students for the working world, and in southeastern Pennsylvania, which is something West Chester can proudly boast about doing.
“About 87 percent of our students begin their first job after graduation in Pennsylvania and many rise quickly to leadership roles in their companies,” Weisenstein said. “Still others develop their own companies that provide employment for many others … WCU grads are making a difference in the state, as well as nationally and internationally.”
Weisenstein said West Chester University continues to grow, with the new campus in Philadelphia and the additions of over a dozen new academic programs.
The growth also brought in more graduate students than ever before.
“Our new master’s and doctoral programs are evidence of excellent planning and tremendous effort on the part of our faculty to keep WCU in the lead academically,” he said. “These programs helped us achieve an enrollment of 2,295 graduate students this past academic year — the highest graduate student enrollment in WCU’s history.”
Though Weisenstein will no longer head the university six months from now, he did address plans for the future of the university.
Among those plans is a master facilities plan to incorporate how facilities can best serve the campus community.
The plan will be shared publicly during the fall semester.
“By the fall of 2019, this plan will help us create a remarkable 177,500 square feet of new space for our academic and student services programs,” Weisenstein said. “When I arrived six and a half years ago, I made a commitment that our permanent faculty would enjoy individual office space. We will achieve that goal when these new facilities are completed.”
During his final months, Weisenstein said he will continue with the process of implementing a new budgeting process.
“(It) is designed to improve transparency and provide greater input from across campus,” he said. “We started this transition over 18 months ago by listening to those who gave direction to these changes. This will be the first year of implementation and will no doubt result in some adjustments as we gain experience with the new process.”
Though it’s never easy transitioning between presidents, Weisenstein said, he felt if there was ever a time to do so at West Chester University, that time is now.
“Arriving on campus in 2009, I foresaw a very bright future for the institution,” he said. “I believe we have achieved much of that future. However, there is an even brighter future that lies ahead for the institution. West Chester University is a place that will overcome challenges that are devastating to others, exploit opportunities more effectively than the rest and offer a quality educational experience that is second to none.”